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Christmas Eve Midnight Mass – The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

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Grace, sweet grace.

Solemn Eucharist of Christmas Night 2018

Hebrews 1.1-4 & John 1.1-14

‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’

I am not sure that there is anywhere else that you would ever hear anyone talk about grace, but in church. We tend to talk about grace in church quite a lot. We expect to hear about it on occasions like this. It sounds good but, what does it mean? What is grace? What does grace look like?

Here are a few examples of what grace looks like in the life of Jesus. When a woman, caught in adultery, was brought to Jesus by a baying mob full of self-righteous hatred, everyone saw the woman as an evil, wanton, shameful woman who deserved the punishment of death. When Jesus saw the same woman he saw a sad, troubled and damaged lady who had given way to temptation, but who deserved forgiveness and another chance at life. That is what grace looks like.

When people saw Zacchaeus, a tax collector, they saw a greedy, intimidating, bullying crook. When Jesus saw Zacchaeus he saw a small man who was rich by his ill-gotten gains but lonely and isolated, so he invited himself to dinner with Zacchaeus and the tax collector changed completely. That is what grace looks like.

When Jesus was being crucified people saw the soldiers hammering the nails as evil, fearsome, unthinking brutes, servants of the Roman occupying force. When Jesus saw those soldiers he saw men, brutalised by violence, blindly following orders who deserved forgiveness and encouragement to live in a new way. That is what grace looks like.

In the life of Jesus grace is seen in his generosity of spirit, his willingness and desire to take a moment to look carefully at people and situations. Jesus did not order his world as we do, by labelling people. He did not order his world by only seeing things and people as being either good or bad. He did not order his world by counting people as either in or out of my tribe, my team, my social class, my religion or denomination, my political party. Jesus ordered his world by loving everyone and that only happens when you are full of grace, when you take time to see the glimmer of goodness, or even the glimmer of the possibility of goodness, in all people. Grace is taking time to look for that glimmer of goodness in everyone and it leads to love.

A famous song of the 1960’s said that ‘What the world needs now is love, sweet love’. We would all agree, but the world will only be full of love if we start filling it with grace sweet grace, a generosity of spirit which is not swept along by the tide of public opinion because public opinion is nearly always ill-informed as so much of it is manipulated by influential people to further their own ends.

I was watching a recording of a stand up show by Russel Brand recently, not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ I know. Whether you think he is funny or not he is invariably thought provoking. As part of his routine he quoted Albert Maysles an American documentary film maker who said ‘Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance’. Unsurprisingly Russel Brand was bemoaning the fact that the things he says as a joke are often quoted by others (actually he singled out the Daily Mail!) completely out of context, to attack him and to inflame fear, mistrust and hatred – the nuance of what he says is deliberately removed. Maybe we could also say, Tyranny is the deliberate removal of grace? Grace can sometimes be about simply taking a moment, before responding to someone elses words or actions, to look for the context, the mood, the tone, the humour, the nuance around what is being said and done before we respond.

Part of our problem in the 21st century is that virtually all social media platforms do not do nuance! I know people try to communicate the mood, or indicate nuance by adding cute little emojis but they are a poor substitute for real communication.

What the world needs this Christmas, what the world needs at this point in our history, is what Jesus is full of, grace and truth. Think of politics, sport, celebrity culture, the Church – we all need more grace.

In the world of politics I am not just thinking about there being more grace on the floor of the House of Commons during Prime Minsters Question Time or in the Today studio when John Humphrey’s interviews people. I am thinking of the normal conversations you and I might have over a pint or round the dinner table or over a coffee at work, about politics. I know of several people who still do not feel able to say which way they voted in the referendum when in the presence of people they know voted the other way, for fear of falling out with them. Remainers imply Brexiteers are idiotic, jingoistic racists and Brexteers imply Remainers are privileged, liberal idealists who aren’t living in the real world. We need grace in all political discussions at every level.

Yes we need grace in elite sport which seems to be full of greed and aggression, but we also need to see a little more grace on the touchline from parents and grandparents watching their children and grandchildren playing sport – teachers tell of appalling, aggressive behaviour from many ‘grown ups’ at school fixtures.

Don’t get me started on reality TV – there may be some grace on ‘Strictly’ but there is never any to be seen on ‘The Apprentice’, ‘Love Island’ or ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ – all we seem to see there are arrogant, self-obsessed, narcissists who then somehow become admired role models! Easy targets I know, but we all need to accept that we need to replace the arrogance, self-obsession and narcissism in ourselves with a little more humility and grace.

It would be nice to think that grace is blossoming from everything the Church says and does but sadly this is not the case. Quite often those who claim to speak on behalf of the Church adopt the same belligerent attitude to communicating their message as most politicians and others in the public eye – they are combative, aggressive, quick to speak, slow to listen – seemingly blind to context and nuance in scripture and in what others say.

What the world needs now is grace, sweet grace. When we sit down for our Christmas dinner tomorrow, whether we say grace or not before we eat, let us try and ensure that our conversations and the way we are with each other, especially those we find it difficult to love, are full of grace, generosity of spirit. Let’s be tuned into the nuances of what others say and the way they behave. And when Christmas is over and life returns to normal let us make sure that there is more grace in our lives, in our dealings with others at home, at school, at work, at the sports club and in our church. If Jesus can be so full of grace that he could forgive those hammering nails into his hands and feet, surely we can fill our lives with grace and to deal kindly, politely, respectfully and creatively with everyone with whom we share our lives?

‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’

The best way to celebrate Christmas is to seek to ensure that our lives are also full of grace and truth.

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